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Just as there are many human languages, computer programmers use different web development languages to communicate with machines. Aspiring web developers can choose from many options when selecting the best programming language to create websites and apps.
In the 1960s, there were fewer than 10 computer programming languages. Today, thousands of these languages exist. Historically, the most popular languages have been Python, C, and Java, but SQL, Swift, and other contemporary languages are growing fast. This guide explores several popular programming languages and helps readers narrow down the right choices.
Programming Languages vs. Coding Languages
Coding is a subset of programming. Coders write instructions for machines in programming languages. The two terms — programming languages and coding languages — are functionally interchangeable, however.
Programming languages appear as domain-specific languages (DSL) and general-purpose languages. DSLs work within given programming environments, while general-purpose programming languages can be compiled or interpreted without any knowledge of the system architecture or platform.
For example, while C++ will not run on Python or PHP, these languages work on Java (and most other systems) because they are all general-purpose programming languages.
How Programming Languages Are Used in Web Development
Programming Languages for Web Development
Coders can use high-level or low-level programming languages. High-level languages are easier to program but require an interpreter for the machine. Conversely, low-level languages speak directly to the machine but are more difficult for programmers.
The following section explores some of the most widely used programming languages.
A versatile, high-level programming language, Python is often seen as a more beginner-friendly alternative to Java or C++. Developed by Guido van Rossum and released in 1991, Python has quickly gained traction across industries due to its minimal syntax, readability, focus on natural language processing, and ability to handle object-oriented and functional programming.
Python is best suited for data analysis and manipulation, machine learning, designing desktop applications, server-side web development (where it is nearly synonymous with Django), and AI.
SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It was originally invented in the 1970s and is the primary language used in relational databases. SQL can retrieve any data stored in tables within a database based on certain criteria set by the user. The programmer then needs to be familiar with writing queries that specify what they want from the database while SQL handles retrieving the request.
Created by Apple, Swift is a high-level programming language that lets developers write code efficiently and simply. Apple first released Swift in 2014, but the company announced plans to make it open source in 2017.
Safe, fast, and in demand, Swift ranked in the top 20 most popular languages in a 2021 survey by Stack Overflow. Fluency in this popular language has become increasingly valuable among programmers.
Benefits of Swift include using fewer lines of code than other languages and an easier time mastering new concepts. Swift also has an interactive playground where you can test code, which many other languages do not have.
Launched in 2018, Rust is a modern language that offers memory safety without sacrificing performance. Rust works for devices of all sizes and emphasizes reliability. However, relatively few programmers use it, so it can be hard to find documentation online or connect with someone who knows how to code in the language.
Since its release more than 30 years ago, thousands of developers have adopted the Perl family of programming languages for its simplicity and flexibility. Since Perl shares a common syntax with most other coding languages, it is easy to learn and use.
This object-oriented, functional, and procedural language has 25,000 open-source modules. It integrates with many third-party databases and interfaces with external C/C++ libraries. Generally, Perl runs slowly, but it is efficient in text manipulation.
First released in 2007, Go is the child of the Google development team. Initially, it was a project Google commissioned to improve the services department. In 2009, however, it became a full-fledged language and was introduced to the public.
In its early days, Go's primary users included software engineers and programmers looking for a high-performance programming language. Since then, it has grown its user base and now appears across industries, including product engineering, system design, robotics control systems as well as web development.
A programming language that features a well-developed web framework is R. Developed by academics Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman in New Zealand, R performs statistical and computer graphics. It emerged directly from one of the oldest programming languages and now integrates with C and C++ for computationally intensive work.
R is an open-source data language with many benefits. For instance, the language features more than 10,000 packages, including dplyr and readr, both known for their ability to structure data. R is also platform independent and ideal for machine learning applications. It is not, however, an easy language to learn, and it runs slower than some newer languages.
HTML is a markup language that is the basis of website construction. It tells browsers how to render web pages. Although it is not programming in the traditional sense, HTML often requires extensive coding and may be challenging to learn.
Ruby on Rails
David Heinemeier Hansson created Ruby on Rails in 2004, and it's considered a highly popular, complex, and object-oriented language. It also has features like concurrency and metaprogramming. This open-source framework allows people to build powerful web applications with minimal effort. Many industries use Ruby, including e-commerce, education, government, and social media.
The first release of PHP occurred in 1995, and the language has been growing in popularity lately due to its simplicity and scalability. PHP is mostly used for web development (both back-end and front-end) but also powers online advertising, game development, database management systems, and hosting services.
Choosing a Web Development Programming Language
While hobbyists can dive into books and online courses, aspiring professionals may need a more structured and disciplined approach to language learning. Coding bootcamps offer intensive courses in different programming languages that can help get you started with minimal cost and effort.
Become a Web Developer
FAQ About Web Development Programming Languages
What programming language works best for web development?
Your server choice should determine the best web development language. For example, if you want to host your website on an Apache server, then Python or PHP would be good choices as they work well with that type of server. Other considerations include other languages running on the same server or are likely to be in a mixed environment.
Is coding required for web development?
Which programming language for web development should I learn first?
Where can I learn web development programming languages?
Reviewed by: Darnell Kenebrew
Darnell Kenebrew is a first-generation graduate of San Francisco State University's class of 2020. He graduated with a bachelor's in computer science, which helped him kick off a career in tech and pursue roles within data and engineering.
Currently, he's a data analytics engineer at Meta and an executive captain for COOP Careers — a nonprofit for overcoming underemployment. Kenebrew strongly believes in giving people a chance and that everyone should have an equal opportunity within the job market. He believes that COOP Careers helps this equality materialize.
Kenebrew is passionate about how the industry is shaped with data and how data can be leveraged in many aspects of business decisions to meet goals. In addition, he's passionate about inclusion, community, education, and using data for good. He hopes to pivot business decisions to make a positive, meaningful impact on end-users while meeting business goals.
Darnell Kenebrew is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Page last reviewed Sep 26, 2022.
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